Compost is a clear winner over peat moss for the following reasons:
- Peat moss has fewer benefits for your soil when compared to compost.
- Using peat moss can make your soil acidic—compost will not.
- Compost adds more nutrients to your soil than peat moss.
- Peat moss is more expensive than compost.
- Harvesting peat moss is extremely harmful to the planet—compost is a renewable resource.
Although there are some who argue for the benefits of peat moss, it simply isn’t a good choice. Compost and other sustainable materials outrank peat moss across the board for improving your lawn and garden.
What is Peat Moss?
Peat moss is made from decomposed organic material (mostly sphagnum moss) harvested from ancient peat bogs. When you purchase peat moss from stores, you are buying the dried moss made that comes from drained natural wetlands. The result is an acidic, low-nutrient material.
What is Compost?
Compost is made from decaying organic materials mixed together in the proper ratio. Ingredients such as leaves, grass clippings, twigs, manure, and fruit rinds are mixed together. As they decompose, these materials release heat that kills harmful bacteria and results in a beneficial soil amendment.
Peat Moss vs. Compost: Head-to-Head Comparison
Peat moss and compost are both commonly used for similar applications, such as covering grass seed and sprouting other young plants. Before you choose one of these products for your lawn and garden, consider these essential pros and cons:
Does Compost Have More Benefits than Peat Moss?
Compost has far more benefits than peat moss. First, compost retains water, which helps it sprout seeds. Second, mixing it into your soil introduces nutrients that fuel plant growth. Third, compost encourages earthworms to tunnel through your soil. These earthworms will keep your soil from becoming compacted, as well as break down organic matter to return more nutrients to the soil. The EPA has even found that compost helps prevent plant diseases by encouraging healthy soil microbe populations.
- Improves soil water retention.
- Adds nutrients to the soil.
- Invites healthy earthworms that decompact and enrich the soil.
- Encourages soil microbe populations.
- Reduces the risk of plant diseases.
Peat Moss Benefits:
- Absorbs and retains water to help sprout new seeds.
- Promotes loose soil for proper plant root growth.
Peat moss has fewer benefits for your soil and plants than compost. The main beneficial effects of peat moss are that it retains moisture and prevents soil compaction. The water-absorbent properties of peat moss make it good for preventing new seeds from drying out. Meanwhile, mixing peat moss into the soil prevents compacted soil, so it encourages healthy root growth.
Is Peat Moss More Harmful to Your Soil than Compost?
Peat moss can harm your soil by making it more acidic. That is one of the main reasons peat moss is not good for grass. Applying peat moss to your lawn or mixing it into your garden soil can increase soil acidity. Many plants and grasses lose the ability to pull nutrients from soil that is too acidic. Additionally, when peat moss decomposes underground it can rob your soil of oxygen, making it more difficult for plants to grow.
- Using peat moss results in acidic soil, which can harm plants and grass.
- As it decomposes, peat moss lowers crucial oxygen levels in the soil.
- Compost does not increase soil acidity.
- There are no known negatives of using a good-quality compost, like this one.
Compost is not associated with negative side effects. Properly rotted compost does not contain harmful bacteria. Plus, compost does not acidify your soil. So, you are far less likely to damage your lawn and garden if you choose compost instead of peat moss.
Does Compost Have More Nutrients than Peat Moss?
Compost contains higher quantities of essential nutrients than peat moss. The 1-1-1 NPK balance of compost means it contains 1% nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This may not seem like much, but peat moss only contains 1% nitrogen and almost no phosphorus orepa potassium.
- Compost has a 1-1-1 NPK.
- This means that, by weight, compost contains 1% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus, and 1% potassium.
- Peat moss contains 1% nitrogen, with little to no other nutrients.
Although compost has relatively low nutrient concentrations when compared to commercial fertilizers, it provides an incredible long-term nutrient boost. The soil microbes introduced by compost promote faster decomposition of organic materials, which means your soil will begin transforming more dead material into plant-feeding nutrients faster. Meanwhile, the beneficial microbes in peat moss are counteracted by the acidic and deoxygenating properties of peat moss.
Which is Cheaper: Compost or Peat Moss?
Compost is less expensive than peat moss. This is often due to the fact that compost can be made nearly anywhere. That means that additional costs for long-distance shipping do not drive the price of compost up. In comparison, most peat moss available in the United States is harvested in Canada and must be shipped long distance. Import and shipping fees make peat moss significantly more expensive.
- Compost almost always costs less than peat moss.
- Peat moss must be harvested internationally and shipped long distances, which increases the cost.
- Compost can be made locally, which reduces the cost.
- You can make compost yourself at almost zero cost.
Compost is so inexpensive that it can practically be made for free. If you or a neighbor has a compost bin or compost pile, you can add your fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, dead leaves, and coffee grounds that would otherwise be trashed. With a little time and periodic turning, this trash can be turned into nutrient-rich compost, at no cost to you.
Is Peat Moss More Harmful to the Environment than Compost?
Oregon State University warns that peat moss harvesting is extremely harmful to the environment. First, wetlands must be drained to reach the peat moss. This destroys the habitats of native plants and animals. Second, the peat moss harvesting process releases large amounts of harmful carbon into the atmosphere. Third, peat moss grows at a rate of a few millimeters per year, so it is harvested much faster than it can grow back. This means that the peat moss industry is destroying natural areas that will not recover for thousands of years.
- Peat moss found in stores is harvested by destroying natural wetlands.
- As peat moss is harvested, mass amounts of carbon stored in peat bogs is released into the atmosphere.
- Harvesting peat moss is so damaging to the environment that the UK has banned its use.
- Compost is environmentally friendly, sustainable, and safe to use.
Using compost is extremely environmentally friendly and is encouraged by most scientists. Compost is made from materials we regard as trash or waste. Making compost does not destroy habitats, does not release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and is entirely sustainable.
Can You Substitute Compost for Peat Moss?
You can use compost as a substitute for peat moss in almost every case. Whether you are covering grass seed to help it sprout, mixing nutrients into your soil, or making the perfect potting soil, compost can act as a replacement for sphagnum peat moss. So, there is no need to pay extra for peat moss when compost is available.
What is the Best Substitute for Peat Moss?
Although compost is usually the best substitute for peat moss, there are several other natural products that are also good choices. You can use straw instead of peat moss for covering grass seed. However, coconut coir (coco peat), pine needles, and even decomposed leaves are good choices to replace peat moss.
Is Peat Moss Better Than Compost?
Peat moss is a far worse choice than compost in every meaningful way. Peat moss provides fewer benefits and nutrients to your soil than compost. At the same time, peat moss can also harm your soil by raising soil acidity and reducing soil oxygen. To make matters worse, peat moss is almost always more expensive than compost. Plus, peat moss harvesting practices harm the environment, while composting is very environmentally friendly. Get better results at a lower cost by picking compost instead of peat moss.